Secrets of Silicon Valley – part 2

In the second and final episode, of this fine investigative programme, ‘The Persuasion Machine’, Jamie Bartlett took us from the big players in Silicon Valley to what they actually do, and in some way sit was more frightening than the big bucks involved. This is an aspect of the internet few of us pay much attention to – it’s free for us but it has to be paid for, and that is in the form of information. Every time we go online we leave traces, which tell something about us, and that information, on a massive sale, is of monetary value to big business.

Jamie Bartlett used an app to measure how much time he spends online and was amazed to discover it was 5 1/2 hours. He works in media, so it should be pretty high, but that means he is unwittingly putting a lot of personal information into the public domain to be used and perhaps abused.

He spoke to a psychologist who analysed this data who showed him a whole lot of statistics on the likelihood of being certain things. Religious views were none, then Roman Catholic; Bartlett was amazed how accurate this was, he was raised a Catholic. Professionally, he was analysed as most likely to be a journalist, then a historian; he studied history at university. He was dumbfounded at how close these statistics were for him. We get lots of warnings about putting too much personal data online which can allow fraudsters to access our accounts, but these people are getting to the heart of what we are, and we are letting them.

Then he met a woman who organised Trump’s election campaign, walked him through the building where they worked. The campaign was mostly via facebook ads, which sent out up to 100 variants each day specifically targeted at social groups to have the most impact. Some of these variants were tweaks like moving the donate button or changing its colour, but they were all designed for effect. Because the budget was so large, they were given specialist help from the big internet companies, so their campaign was the best possible. This is where the Democrats were left eating their dust. They just weren’t sufficiently tech savvy, which is ironic as the democrats are pretty much the default party for Silicon valley, so we are now in a strange place where the companies that helped get Trump into power do not support him. There were lots of conspiracy stories kicking about claiming Trump cheated, but it seems he just spent lots of money on getting the best campaign possible. 

The experts in statistics, who were employed by Trump are Cambridge Analytics; Bartlett spoke to their head, who claimed this is the future, that there is nothing we can do about it. The virtual world is ever expanding. 

This is so creepy. And it’s where parallels between the industrial revolution and modern technology break down. Early industrialists recognised a problem and worked to solve it, often paying clever people to come up with a solution. There were plenty of scientists sharing their ideas for the greater good. It’s hard to see a greater good here beyond the huge wealth by a tiny few.

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